School’s out, for ever?

School’s out, for ever?

I have just returned in mid-September from a week-long foreign holiday, and I was surprised to see so many English families with children.

According to a recent report from consultancy Public First there has been a ‘seismic shift’ in parents’ attitudes to school attendance.

My anecdotal evidence supports the report’s findings that absenteeism is growing, and it is now more ‘socially acceptable’ to go on holiday during term time.

The report indicates that persistent absence is now over 20 per cent rather than at about 10 per cent.

I understand the reasoning why families do go on holiday in school time – because it is so much cheaper. Even if they are fined.

But other factors are also cited as to why more children are not in school. Home schooling has doubled since the start of the pandemic, and lockdowns had the effect of taking the going-to-school-habit away from some families. And it hasn’t returned.

There has been a breakdown of trust and some parents may not view schooling with the same level of importance as before.

The report also found that lockdowns and teacher strikes have damaged the social contract between schools and families.

It is a fact that there are now many ways children can engage with information: through phones, tablets and laptops. But in my view that is no replacement for school.

It is hard to believe but formal education for the masses is a relatively modern phenomenon in our society.

The fact we educate children on a universal basis and require children to be schooled by law is real progression and we should never give this up.

Education provides children with an ability to function in society and make sensible choices for themselves.

There are many other advantages for children in going to school:

  1. Structured learning via a pre-planned curriculum. Our curriculum still lacks ambition, but it does at least deliver basic literacy and numeracy to a reasonable level. It is hard for parents to deliver this unless they are trained teachers. Home schooling is extremely difficult and although it is perfectly possible to deliver quality education in the environment of the home, it is much harder.
  1. Children need to engage with other children of the same age. This develops their social skills and the ability to work with others. Children also need to learn to negotiate relationships and make friends with other children. It also helps in curbing anti-social behaviours as these are exposed when children engage with each other. Teachers can intervene and help children grow and mature in the school environment.
  1. Schools can organise sports and social activities for children. Also, we should not underestimate how important the playground is in developing a child’s imagination and ability to learn through play. No home schooling can provide this kind of experience for children.

Furthermore, schooling helps children prepare for the world of work by making it a habit of getting up every morning and going out.

It helps migrant families integrate, fosters a sense of belonging and often creates friendships for life.

The country benefits by having a well-educated population. If we don’t, our competitors will have an advantage.

Every effort should be made to get children into school.